The tourist season is over now, and locals are breathing a sigh of relief in many ways as Cinque Terre was overrun this year. With cruise ships offloading their hordes, some days the main street in the villages was awash with people, pushing and shoving in their determination to check out the souvenir shops, grab lunch and still be back on time to the ferry or train for the return to their cruise liner.
The narrow alleyways were a slither of bobbing heads as they climbed the never ending steps, gasping, with hardly time to appreciate the beauty of the village or surroundings that they had been thrown into. Most groups, cruise liners and non, walk the Via dell’Amore then use the train system to move quickly between the remaining villages, as I had done on many of my tours. This year however there was the added difficulty of the Via dell’Amore being closed and no additional trains to cope with the increased mass.
The result – many hassled tourists who left the territory thinking it was overrated, not particularly beautiful and who would have preferred to be elsewhere! A recent article in the New York Times which described the area as a real gem, elicited many negative comments.
For example “The Cinque Terre are overcrowded, overpriced and overrated. They are a travel industry creation full of foreigners not Italians. There are plenty of reasons to go to Italy, this is not one of them.”
“There was surely a time years ago when these villages were indeed quaint, pristine, romantic and like a step back in time. No more – they are dirty, the train tunnels covered with graffiti, packed with tourists with no place to go, bad food and a portion of the much vaunted hiking trails between towns is closed. The attitude of the locals reflect this”
I cringed when I read them, yet can easily identify with their angst. Independent travellers are bundled in with the hordes as well, spending more time waiting on train platforms or suffering in stuffy carriages than delighting in their visit.
It’s a major issue, now that Cinque Terre is on every itinerary, and travel companies from all over offer what appears to be a beautiful day tour to the area but what effectively becomes something of a nightmare, and tourists are going away disgruntled and disappointed. Trying to see the villages effectively in a 3 or 4 hour visit is more than likely to disappoint rather than leave tourists with a magic experience of such a delicate territory.
I even saw the Mayor of Vernazza taking photos of the people squeezed into the alleyways, rubbish overflowing from inadequate bins, and ferries blurting out their human cargo onto the port leaving many others stranded for lack of space. His intention being to discuss it with the National Park President.
The Park President commented in a recent interview that the ‘hit-and-run’ style of tourism brought by the cruise liners was inappropriate in a territory so fragile and still licking her wounds from the flood of 2011. He was appealing to the three Port Authorities involved – La Spezia, Livorno and Genoa to orchestrate arrivals, to avoid excessive compression of tourists on the trails and encourage a more responsible tourism.
As for locals, their regular habits change as there is no space for them to gather in the square, let alone sit for a natter. And they are often left on the train platform with their shopping bags in hand if they have dallied too long and found themselves in the peak hour cruise crush.
So we would like it to be better, not necessarily to hanker for the old days, but to look for solutions to the problem and encourage slow travel, slow food, and slow appreciation of the area so that the Cinque Terre can be special to us all.
I hate to admit, but having worked in the travel industry for so long, it will be a battle, as ‘business is business’ and it will be hard work convincing any travel agency to plan their itineraries differently whilst clients continue to request it. I hope to be proved wrong.
But please don’t let this post put you off from visiting, stay a few days, take it slowly, and try some of the alternative trails, I assure you that you will enjoy the experience!